Although the subject of motives in serving The Lord is very important and will be the subject matter at the Judgment Seat of Christ.The immediate context of our study this morning in verses 10-15 is directed to leaders, and their pure or impure motivation behind the use of their spiritual gifts in ministering to the body of Christ at Corinth. This is the thrust of the warning found in verses 16 & 17.
Although the immediate context is leaders, this certainly does not limit the warning to just leaders alone. This context of the letter up to this point, (beginning in chapter 1) specifically addresses all those who were guilty of promoting factions and divisions within the church.
Remember, Paul began this letter of correction by addressing the most harmful and grievous matter of all. The sowing of dissension, discord and division within the church.
The Foundation of the Christian life is the gospel
1 Corinthians 3.10,11 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Paul was the builder that God used as His instrument to lay the foundation at Corinth. That foundation was The Lord Jesus Christ, His propitiatory sacrifice on the cross for our sin, death, burial and bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day.
Isaiah 28.16 Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
Ephesians 2.19-22 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Paul knew that it is only in Christ that a person can find forgiveness for the sins of the past; strength and grace to confront the power of sin in the present; the precious promise and hope of being delivered from the presence of sin for all eternity.
There is only one foundation for the church. If it isn’t founded on Jesus Christ, it isn’t a church at all.
One of the things that is important to notice as we continue to navigate our way through this epistle is how Paul never moves from the centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ in dealing with any problem in the church. Sexual immorality; brothers taking one another to court to settle disputes; the misuse and abuse of Christian liberty; the issues of singleness, marriage; the improper use of spiritual gifts; heretical views of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As far as Paul was concerned, the Lord Jesus Christ, His gospel and His glory are the very solution to all any and all broken relationships, doctrinal errors or aberrant behavior in Corinth.
Did you catch in the passage how Paul did not have any doubt at all that his ability to minister the gospel of Jesus Christ was because of the grace of God.
In 1 Corinthians 15.10,11 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.
1 Peter 4.10,11 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
The glory of God, not the exaltation of any minister is the goal of all ministerial gifting. This boasting over leaders was a huge problem in Corinth that was causing division amongst the brethren.
The subject of motives and materials used to build upon the foundation.
1 Corinthians 3.12-15 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest (apparent, evident): for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed (disclose what has been veiled or covered up) by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Before we go any further in our study, let me pass along to you the 2 non-negotiable qualities necessary for those who bring forth God’s Word:
The leader’s/believer’s message must be Christocentric.
The leader’s/believer’s life and motivation must be Christ like.
Let me make it crystal clear here that verses 12-15 refers to the subject of motivation and rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, not salvation.
Salvation is not a reward for stellar service or sinless perfection on earth. Salvation is a gift of God and from God, by grace, through faith in The Lord Jesus Christ not of works lest any man should boast.
This whole section is all about a believer’s works and the motivation behind the works.
The life of faith and obedience is a result of salvation, not a means to salvation. Rewards can be lost, yet salvation retained.
Verses 12-15 put in front of us some of the most misunderstood and wrongly interpreted passages in the entire Bible.
The Roman Catholics use verses 13-15 to “prove” their doctrine of purgatory. That is the teaching that if a person is not good enough to go to heaven or bad enough to go to hell, he or she is sentenced to purgatory where the fire or purging of sin will purify people in the next life and make them fit for heaven. Purgatory is not what Paul is talking about here at all. Purgatory is strictly a human invention, and denies the finished work of Jesus for the believer.
The modern, syncretic theology of the day uses these verses to “prove” that salvation is a combination of the grace of God and good works. Paul is not teaching that salvation is a combination of the Christ’s sacrifice and my qualifying good works. Christ + works = salvation is not the gospel.
While this passage along with many others teach that there will be a judgment of believers’ works at the judgment seat of Christ, the most direct application is directed to workers and pastors of the local churches.
In context, this portion of his letter, Paul is addressing to those leaders in the church who were actually embracing the factious spirit that we read about in chapter one. I am of Paul, I am of Cephas, I am of Apollos, and I am of Christ.
This section describes two kinds of Christian workers:
The wise builder (v. 14).
Psalm 127.1 Except The Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.
The wise builder uses lasting materials like gold, silver and precious stones. Gold, silver, precious stones speak of durable material like teaching sound doctrine. Communicating the whole counsel of God accurately, lovingly and faithfully. Instead of teaching the word of God through the divisive lens of “ism’s or systems.
This wise builder seeks to honor Christ, aiming for quality that will glorify Christ, not quantity that will win the praise of men.
Wise builders use the Word, they pray and depend on the Spirit; as a result, their work is lasting. When the fire tries their work in glory, it will stand!
- The worldly builder (v. 15).
The second builder uses materials that cannot stand the test. Wood, hay, straw speaks of inferior materials implying shallow activity with no eternal value. They do not refer to activities that are evil.
Mixing the wisdom of men with the wisdom of God in the work of building the church is like using alternate layers of straw and marble in building. It is mixing the Word with worldly materials of philosophy, psychology or methodology.
Straw may be fine, it may have a place (in the barn), but it is an inadequate building material. In the same way that human wisdom may have a place in life, but not in the building of the church.
2 Corinthians 5:10 indicates that the wood, hay, and straw are “worthless” things that don’t stand the test of judgment fire.
2 Corinthians 5.10 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
This is the Christian worker who may be drawing a crowd, but they certainly are not making disciples. The crowd drawing materials they use come from the world—wood, hay, and stubble.
These builders are more interested in statistics, than souls. Bigger is better. At the end of the day, it is all about growing their church or their denomination or making disciples after their favorite teacher or theologians image and likeness. When this ministry is tested in eternity, it will burn up.
Saved, yet so by fire- The loss of some, much, or all of a believer’s life’s work has to do with their worldly motivation or methodology. It does not in anyway affect the foundation of saving faith in Jesus Christ. These are not leaders who are preaching another Jesus or another gospel.
Explanation of the usage of fire
Like so many metaphors in the Bible (e.g. leaven, lion) fire can be a blessing or a curse depending on the context. The fire analogy is to be understood in a metallurgical sense. Fire reveals the true metal and burns off the dross.
The picture Paul uses of God’s judgment is of a fire sweeping through a building. It will consume all that is combustible and leave what has been built upon Jesus Christ as the foundation, with His honor and glory alone as its object.
Quality is what matters rather than quantity. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, will your work done for The Lord be proved to be ‘gold, silver, costly stones’ or ‘wood, hay or straw’?
The warning given to those who defile the temple of God
1 Corinthians 3.16,17 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
The pronoun “you” is plural, while “temple” is singular; therefore, in this context “temple” must refer to the whole church at Corinth (cf. 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21–22), which may have involved several house churches.
The temple here is the Church, the body of Christ, as distinguished from the temple in 6:19, which is the physical body of the individual Christian.
The “defiler” of the temple refers to the individual, be it a teacher or layperson that does not build the church up, but either tears it down or divides it. The Greek word that is translated “defile” is also translated destroy in verse 17. This word has the idea of corrupting, spoiling or withering.
Divisions and dissension among God’s people are counterproductive and actually grieve and quench the untiy of The Spirit of God Who indwells them as His temple.
Interestingly, in verse 19 & 20, Paul quotes Job 5.13 & Psalm 94.11 to point out that the root cause of the dissension and division within the church was a worldly spirit instead of The Holy Spirit.
Exhortation to the body of Christ
On the Day of Judgment, the fire of God is going to reveal the true motive behind the things that we do in The Name of Christ. You see beloved, it is not only what we do that matters to Jesus, but why we do it.
Right deeds, wrong motives:
1 Cor 13; Rev 2; (loveless acts)
How tragic to consider that there are people who believe they are serving God, but are doing it in an unloving manner or with unworthy “materials”, only to find in eternity that they have, in reality, done nothing for the Lord. What a waste!
Right Gospel, wrong motives:
There were some who selfishly and insincerely preached Christ in order to make Paul’s stay in prison more miserable. People got saved in spite of the wrong motives, because God saves those who repent of their sin and turn to His Son.
Right deeds, wrong gospel
Matt 7.21-23 I never knew you…workers of iniquity.
Neither profession of faith, nor outward forms of godliness saves a person. Only those who repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone are His sheep and the people of His pasture.
Exhortation to those who have yet to repent of their sin and trust in Christ
Salvation is a living, viable relationship with The Lord Jesus Christ. It is being born of The Spirit.
True salvation is the beginning of a life of ever growing intimacy with Jesus Christ. True salvation is an ongoing life of confession and repentance of sin, bearing fruit for the glory of God.
Genuine salvation is a once and for all completed action. An ongoing process (sanctification). A final destination (glorification with Christ forever).